Saturday, February 27, 2010

If the standards got any lower, I'd get an award for fogging up chopsticks

I was told by three different people yesterday that I speak very good Korean. Aside from the cell phone peddler, with whom I'd been talking for an hour about a variety of topics, it seems that Koreans have very low standards for what qualifies as a foreigner who speaks Korean well.

The reality is that aside from Chinese and Japanese for whom it's easier and more practical to actually study Korean, virtually no English speakers can string together even a sentence. Even so, I suspect that the compliments come less from reflection on that reality and more from the sheer "talking monkey" effect.

#1

Adeel: I'm very sorry!
Restaurant owner: It's okay. Your Korean is very good.

#2

Cell phone store owner: You got here three days ago? You speak Korean very well. Did you study Korean in university?
Adeel: No, no, I've lived here before.
Cell phone store owner: Ah, then, let me write down some more numbers on this piece of paper while we watch the Olympics on my cell phone.

#3

Adeel: Hey, it's Adeel. Are we meeting tomorrow at Jongno-3-ga station?
Acquaintance: Wow! You speak great Korean! Yes, we are.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book #2: Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea, about American Greg Mortensen who parlays a failed attempt to summit K2 into a decade of building schools and infrastructure in the remote Northern Areas of Pakistan, is sweet like a cup of Pakistani tea. It's written in the fawning tone of a Sports Illustrated article that makes everyone seem great at the moment of writing, though it's certainly not without merit.

I picked up two main strands of interest in the book. The first was life in the Pakistani Karakoram, in the shadow of K2 and Nanga Parbat and all those other mountains that I learned about as a source of national pride as a kid. Roughly half of the world's 20 tallest mountains are in Pakistan, though Pakistan lags far behind places like Nepal tourism.

I caught a glimpse of the Chinese side of the Karakoram on the Karakoram Highway that links the two countries, though I think China calls it the China-Pakistan Highway. The mountains are pointy and imposing, the vistas and the altitude breathtaking, and the people rugged but friendly. It almost seems too cold, too quiet and too calm to be Pakistan, or China for that matter. Crossing the border at 15,000 feet elevation, one of the most remote points at a border that few people give consideration to, is a trip that's well worth it.

The second point of interest was the idea of education as development in rural Pakistan. David Oliver Rein, who co-authored the book with Mortensen, makes it a point to tie Mortensen's work to America's security. A more educated Pakistan will be a more developed Pakistan, and certainly a Pakistan that's more immune to finding absurd solutions to its problems in semi-literate clergy.

It might appear that security and development are not that closely linked, given that security is a short-term concern while children that are educated today likely won't pay off for 10-15 years. However, religious extremists managed to poison Pakistan with their long-term view, educating children 10 and 20 years ago with the aim of turning them into useful idiots later on. That strategy is paying large dividends now. A long-term strategy of education linked to development and security, painful as it might be, is needed to fully erase the mistakes of the past.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Miles and miles away

Back in Korea, the biggest gap I feel is not between here and there, but between yesterday and today. It all went swimmingly at first. I took a 14-hour flight, landed at 3 am, showered at the airport, had breakfast at McDonald's and was promptly delivered to my school for an orientation. Then, a man that I think is my boss escorted me around the school before finding out that the orientation was cancelled.

What's interesting about this school is that my boss read even the little things on my resume. That's how it came to be that we stood in what was either the phys ed office or a place where phys ed teachers gather discussing my running exploits. We'd talked a bit about it walking across the schoolyard, but I didn't think much of it until he introduced me as the marathoner and told everyone in the office, "he says the 36-minute 10k is from university. These days he'd be happy to break 40."

Then I was promptly dismissed and landed in an old but massive apartment in northeastern Seoul. Secretly, this is the kind of neighbourhood I've always wanted. The streets ascend at a ridiculous grade into a residential neighbourhood. Most of the buildings here are low-rises of curious shapes and curious roofs. Economically, it might be a decade or two behind the area south of the river, but these hills are probably the only way I can maintain my reputation at work.

I slept all afternoon and evening and woke up at 1, trying to decide if it was 1 am or 1 pm. Once it figured out that it was 1 am, I spent a long time trying to locate my shoes and my wallet. After that, I ate half a box of chocolates and stumbled through half of my copy of Harper's Magazine. Then I realized that life in the '80s isn't all that great, since I don't know if I can find my apartment before sunrise (it's 4 am right now).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is the net half empty or half full?

With Martin Brodeur, it seemed thatthe net was at least half empty, if not more. This was the most attention I've paid to a hockey game since the Leafs lost the 1999 Eastern Conference final. Brodeur has been one of the best at what he does since before I had even heard of hockey, but his age sure showed tonight. He was old, slow, made mistakes in handling the puck and generally seemed to move with the tragedy of a wounded hero.

His American counterpart stopped an astonishing 42 of 45 shots, which reminded me of the Leafs' futility against Dominik Hasek all those years ago. That was when I gave up any attempts at trying to understand hockey. I gave up caring about baseball about five years ago, which leaves only track and football.

For a long time, I found hockey impossible to watch. It was chaotic and no matter how much I wanted to watch a Canadian team in the Stanley Cup, it was dull and I tuned out. Last night, even the futility of the Canadian offense seemed interesting. I'm not sure why, but I attribute it to having been in the presence of a classroom full of kids. Finding the right kid, at times, is not like finding a needle in a haystack, but a puck in front of a crowded net.

As for Team Canada, they now have to beat Germany to get to Russia in the quarterfinal, which is supposedly a big blow. However, odds are that Canada was going to have to play a team like Russia anyway. The match-up happens sooner rather than later because Canada will enter the quarterfinals as a lowly-ranked team. If this team is good enough, it will beat Russia and then play a somewhat weaker opponent later on. Of course, it would have been nice if someone else could knock out Russia, but if it helps, they can pretend that Russia played badly and entered the quarterfinal in a bad position.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fight them here so we don't need to fight them there

After having been harassed in places as far-ranging as Hong Kong, America and Korea for being a potential terrorist, I have had enough. Clearly, all this time treating everybody as equal has been a waste. What needs to be done now is that white American males between 18 to 65 years of age need to be treated as potential victims. They need to be searched thoroughly and subjected to whatever extra-judicial, illegal treatment that dull-witted reactionaries currently propose for those with the wrong skin colour.

News emerged today of two acts of terrorism perpetrated by white men, which, to be serious for a second, is getting surprisingly little attention. What attention it gets is amazingly benign. A man crashes a plane into a government building in America. Nine times out of ten it would be an act of terrorism. That this time the killer was a white English speaker means that it's not an act of terrorism, or even murder, but an "intentional plane crash" according to Wikipedia.

Elsewhere, the FBI closed its investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, concluding that an army scientist was behind it all. This really wasn't an act of terrorism, which is a term that increasingly loses meaning as those of all political persuasions continue to use the word as an all-purpose slander. Many people, for example, consider America to be "the biggest terrorist" or something of the sort, but simple war, even if it kills millions of people, isn't terrorism. It's war.

The lack of panic over the Texas plane crash is indicative of some form of bizarre racism. The attempted explosion in Detroit last December might not have killed anyone even if successful, but it generated weeks of hysterical, panicked responses and added yet another layer of meaningless cavity searches to air travel. One man was a black African and killed nobody, while the other was a white man who did kill somebody. There are no hyperbolic statements demanding answers on how a deranged man was able to access a plane and fly it into a building, or pointing out that others could do this with cars, rocks or paper airplanes. Instead, we can print a sweet apology from his wife.

Meanwhile, no one has considered the chilling security gap exposed by this act. The reality is that with rare exceptions, buildings in America as well as Canada are simply not able to withstand a direct hit from an airplane. In our post February 18 world, it is imperative to retrofit the facades of our homes, offices and, most importantly, our children's schools with some material able to withstand a direct hit from a jumbo jet.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to talk about what you're talking about without talking about it

In conjunction with Slate's Sap-o-Meter is the method of broadcasting obscure sports without having any knowledge of those sports, a technique perfected by the all-purpose broadcasters television networks employ for events such as the Olympics. Watching speedskating, for example, it becomes painfully obvious when a broadcaster tries to cover up ignorance with a barrage of facts from a media guide. If you listen to the emphasized words, which would otherwise be meaningful, you will get a good laugh.

The coverage consists basically of the broadcaster reciting assorted facts about athletes in a mildly-surprised tone that could work for anything from having six different kinds of soup on a menu to an improbable comeback late in a race. Occasionally, when something of note happens, the unpolished voice of the former athlete will interrupt to inform viewers of something they might have missed, or to offer general analysis. Otherwise, you get to here a sort of audiobook of facts about athletes. As a general rule, the whiter and more English-speaking they are, the more facts their life has.

Here's how a race might go, with italics indicating an emphasized word:

"There are four competitors in this semifinal of the women's 500-metre. Jane Frenchlastname from Somewhere, Quebec is the Canadian hope? The rising intonation at the end of the last sentence indicates an awkward moment, where I don't know what to say. Ah, yes, here we go...Frenchlastname is approximately 54 kilograms and her family is here cheering her on."

"Joe, Frenchlastname is off to a great start! She's taken the early lead and it looks like she will make the final."

"Frenchlastname, looking to make the final, where she hopes to continue her Olympic experience. Some more facts about her competitors: Wang Meng, from China is approximately 52 kilograms, a difference of two kilograms from Frenchlastname."

"Joe, what a great move by Shortnordicname! She hung back the entire race, but she's pouring it on now and it looks like she will be in contention to make the final."

"Shortnordicname studies biology in her native Scandinavia, where her mother works at a credit union. Coming into the final turn now, it will be Frenchlastname and Shortnordic name! Frenchlastname will represent Canada for a chance at a medal in the final, which we will air live at 4:30 Pacific, 7:30 Eastern, 8:30 Atlantic and 9:00 Newfoundlannnnnnd."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thank God I was reading the Chosun Ilbo, not Al-Quds

More troubling than the hours-long detention of a white American student for having Arabic-language flash cards on his person at an airport are the comments on CNN's website. Normally, the sort of people that comment on Internet news are not representative of public opinion for reasons of profanity, idiocy and incoherency, but in this case, it's different.

The posts tend towards ridicule slightly, but a significant number conclude that the student was mistaken to carry Arabic flash cards, including ones that said "bomb", "explosion" and "terrorist" (fun fact: terrorists don't call themselves terrorists) for reasons of prudence. The process, in effect, says that the government is unpredictable, capricious and strict, and that giving them suspicion will have unfortunate consequences. As a result, we should self-censor to avoid arrest and subsequent enhanced interrogation.

One person writes, "There is no logical reason to learn those words. When would they ever come up in conversation, unless you were planning something?" George had plainly said that he learned the words to help him understand news reports, but that's besides the point. The person who wrote that post used the words "Arabic", "bomb", as well as "planning something" in the post. What logical reason is there to use those words for anything but criminal intents?

The other problem, along with self-censorship, is the presumption of guilt. Someone holding a cell phone is typically not presumed to have stolen it unless proven otherwise, but passengers at an airport are generally presumed to be guilty unless they can prove otherwise. If I were to report George to the authorities for having Arabic flash cards, they would likely take no action, having not much evidence of guilt. At an airport, the situation reverses horrifically. George, starting from a presumption of guilt, could not clear his name because he was studying Arabic.

Now, if Americans are interested in constructing the sort of Second World country like China or Iran where travelers are advised to not bring in politically or religiously sensitive material, that's fine, but I imagine most Americans are not interested in that sort of decline.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Soft power is actually quite hard

With My Name is Khan, Slumdog Millionaire, Three Idiots as well as the upcoming Kites, India seems to have done what China struggles with immensely. India has recently laid the seeds for becoming a cultural power in the way of the United States. China, though far more developed than India, with a per capita income of $6,000 that is double India, and more powerful politically and militarily, has comparatively few cultural exports.

While so many of the world's manufactured goods are made in China and, as a result, I type on a Chinese-made computer while keeping an eye on my Chinese-made cell phone and TV, China hasn't taken over my life in quite the way that America's cultural exports have. India has the chance to do this through its entertainment industry, which

While Indian culture has long reigned supreme in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere, China actually receives cultural influence from Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Japan and Korea. The gap is not simply one of poverty, one where a poor area receives culture from wealthier neighbours, but one of openness. China's authoritarian system is fantastic for guaranteeing a fantastic place to do business, but doesn't allow for much creative expression.

India, on the other hand, is a cacophonous democracy. China presents a sanitized view of a rapidly ascendant country, but India's self-image juxtaposes highrises with slums, even if it omits the rural outposts that are untouched by recent development.

Because it offers up highly distorted defenses of official stances on the three T's of Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen, China is unlikely to counter the West with significant cultural products any time soon. Chinese food and martial arts are popular, but this is more the result of Hong Kong's openness over the years, considering that China's ascendancy over the last ten years has done little to change anything in this area.

No one is going to believe what China says, so it looks as though India alone can contribute a non-Western perspective in a future world where the powers are not just America and Europe, but also China, India, Brazil and (gulp) Russia. If nothing else, the world will now have a second exporter of maudlin cinema with the likely result that, in time, we will come to see either Independence Day or its Indian version as a fine work of art.

The left hand knows not what the right hand does

My Name is Khan is, both literally and figuratively, a movie by FOX about FOX. It stars Bollywood superstarsShah Rukh Khan and Kajol, who have already given the world Bazigaar, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Kabi Khushe Kabi Gham, not to mention the soundtrack to which your barely-recognizable sister or sister-in-law entered a banquet hall in Brampton or Mississauga. But let's deal with the geopolitical ramifications, as well as the logistical challenges of trying to see an Indian movie in Missisauga on a Saturday night, of this movie a little bit later.

My Name is Khan is an examination of life after 9/11 for Muslims, Indians, Sikhs and others with the wrong kind of skin. It is an examination with a blunt-force instrument that seems thoughtful and well-done until you see crowds of white people in San Francisco walk away from Shah Rukh Khan at a candlelight vigil because he is Muslim, or you see Kajol ask if she's hired even though her husband is Muslim.

The America depicted in the movie is something of a caricature, you will realize. As the movie progresses through its three-hour course, which includes an ungranted intermission, it gets weirder and weirder. If you're thoughtful, you will also realize that America has long been doing this to other countries. If the major TV stations in America aren't staffed exclusively by Indian immigrants who speak in Hindi to white people, well, the Nazis didn't speak English to each other and Achilles didn't speak with a British accent.

If it's improbable that hurricane victims in Georgia would simply sit around and wait to die, rescued only by the generosity of Indian Muslims because the American military was too busy fighting wars, well, it's equally improbable that Iraqis would spontaneously welcome Americans as liberators. Actually, what's most improbable about that scene is that South Asian Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs would rather eat their fingers than help black people. If you're black and didn't know this, you should know that South Asians almost unanimously hate you.

Still, what makes My Name is Khan worth seeing is that nearly a decade into America's apeshit preoccupation with terrorism, no one has thought to make a movie about this topic. That it's foreign-made makes it even more interesting because though it depicts whites and blacks as caricatures at times, it better conveys the feelings of its protagonists than a Hollywood movie would likely have done. It's a very sloppy, biased take on the torture, discrimination and general intellectual laziness that has become the prevailing attitude in America. That FOX is distributing the movie in America, then, makes it doubly entertaining.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Doesn't this defeat the point, pun intended?

A large part of what makes Canada the greatest country in the world is that, like some geopolitical Fight Club, we don't really talk about this being the greatest country in the world. We receive consistently high evaluations from our peers because if you bump into us, we'll apologize for being in your way. While we tend to err towards excessive deference, I've always been grateful that I wasn't educated in the myopic superiority of my country for no other reason than the fact that it's my country.

Knowing what we're like, our expensive Own the Podium plan is either a novel, fresh breath of air or a nationalist abomination. Considering that we've managed to host two Olympics but never won a gold medal in either one, the first gold medal we win here will be history-making. That I'm now supposed to care about the nationality of the tights-wearing man hurtling himself into the air on skis after years of not is news to me.

Many people around the world will watch anything if someone from their country is winning. Americans tuned into cycling when Lance Armstrong, supposedly, beat groups of men doped to the gills while not being doped at all himself. Koreans report on the minutiae of figure skating because Kim Yuna (pronounced yawn-ah, really) is an Olympic medal favourite. Ethiopians know all about marathoning because of Abebe Bikila, Mamo Wolde and Haile Gebrselassie, though it's doubtful that they organized many marathons before Bikila's epic win in 1960.

Sure, we have Cindy Klassen commemorative quarters, but we're also the people whose national sport is controlled by a foreign country. So while I hope that the tights-clad men and women from our country beat the tights-clad men and women from yours and all other countries, I didn't start watching sports just to see the Canadian win and I'm not about to start now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Average temperatures drop for sixth consecutive month

The Daily Show took on the science of global warming on Wednesday. Click here for the clip, which works in Canada only.

Keep watching the clip for the second segment of the show, Mighty Oprhan Power Strangers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow and climate change

Freak snowstorms this year in otherwise mild Washington and Seoul are certainly not indicative of warmer weather. If you're a runner like me or simply delight in plunging wind chills and impending blizzards like my dad, you keep a close eye on the weather. That means you know that when it snows, at least in Toronto, the temperature is typically just below zero. Protests of "it's so cold!" when seeing falling snow are off the mark, because falling snow after a few days at -15 means that it is now warmer.

At any rate, if you're not a runner and really just want to be a flat-earther, you'll point to the snow as evidence of global cooling or some such. The truth is that warm air holds more moisture than cold air. The coldest air we see here tends to be very dry, incapable of producing much snow. You can find science proving anything, such as the study I saw yesterday warning that two or more soft drinks a week increase your chance of pancreatic cancer by 87%, not to be confused with an 87% chance of getting pancreatic cancer. What troubled the CTV anchor, taking a break from Olympic commercial to air some news, was that it made no difference if the drinks were diet.

That tangent aside, this group of scientists argues that more snow can be the result of warming temperatures. If you're the kind of person that isn't easily convinced by people who know what they're talking about and prefer the opinions of those who don't, consider that this was the warmest January of the last 30 years.

For those like me who get easily bored by science, you can read The Straight Dope's explanation of why Nashville gets more snow than the South Pole.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why any future Korea-Canada trade agreement needs to include sarcasm

From an instant messaging conversation

Friend: 경기도 광주 is 시골 (Gwangju, Gyeonggi province is in the countryside)
Adeel: good
i'll grow rice
it'll be a part-time job
Friend: oh
weekend?
Adeel: yeah, and early morning
Friend: oh
two jobs
oh adeel

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Where's Mike Harris when you need him?

What I like about the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is that it treats the Toronto Transit Commission's employees as important even though they're not white collar professionals. In fact, they usually wear light blue shirts with burgundy jackets. Offering high pay, job security and moral support to people without MBAs makes our society better off, keeping jobs in that middle range between a quarter million dollars a year and minimum wage.

The problem is that the atu is also deranged, a fact that was true a few days ago when I started writing this post. Since I started writing, TTC chief manager Gary Webster wrote a memo to the 12,000 employees of the TTC telling them to at least try to earn their paycheque.

"I am becoming increasingly tired of defending the reputation of the TTC," Webster wrote, later explaining that he released the memo through the media to ensure that all TTC employees heard of it. A similar memo had been sent earlier but was disregarded by some who claimed ignorance.

So, in response to this and other perceived harrassment, TTC workers did the natural thing. They formed a Facebook group called Toronto Transit Operators against public harassment, public harrassment being our temerity to request that they not sleep on the job and treat us like human beings.

In response, TTC workers collected images of passengers behaving badly, which probably aren't hard to find considering that each bus or train has at most a handful of employees and a subway train at peak capacity can hold close to 2,000 people. But that's missing the point, because we pay to use the TTC. We are customers and they are workers, making any equivalency between us impossible.

TTC workers also threatened a possible work-to-rule in return for our harrassment, a truly fantastic turn of events. At least the good news is that after years of complaints about the rudeness of TTC workers, the issue is finally coming to a head. For my part, I can't remember the last time a fare collector took the time out of his busy schedule to even talk to me.

Death, taxes and death again

Dundas Street West, Toronto

Mom: "They hurried but they had to stop at the light anyway. What's the point?"
Me: "Yeah, they all die in the end anyway."
Mom: "What? God forbid, don't say that."
Me: "God forbid? What do you mean? Of course it happens. To everyone."
Mom: "God forbid!"
Me: "God forbid? That--"
Mom (angrily): "Okay!"

Running the ball, stopping the run and playing all-caps FOOTBALL: RIP

The nice thing about the Super Bowl is that it wasn't a victory of some plodding prehistoric group of men who excel at running into other men. There were 37 runs called against 85 passes. More importantly, it was an exciting game tactically if not in the final outcome, not at least compared to the last two Super Bowls. Both teams went for it on fourth down when they could have kicked, and the Saints started the second half with an onside kick.

That the Saints won a Super Bowl this way likely has little influence on how teams will play, playing far too cautiously and couching this passivity as aggression because it means big men hit other big men. Still, it's a nice victory for aggressive, exciting, fast-paced football.

It's a good thing that the Saints won, because otherwise we would have heard endlessly about it from the old guard of analysts who serve up cliches-by-t he-minute on TV. The failed fourth-down conversion on the Colts' goal line, combined with an easy chance to score for the Colts on the failed onside kick, was a ten-point swing.

On the losers' side of the ball, I think the Colts have made themselves into the Braves of the last decade, or the Bills of the '90s, the Broncos of the '80s and the Vikings of the '70s. The Colts won more games this decade than any team in history, bearing in mind that this is the third decade of a 16-game season.

They have ten playoff appearances in eleven years, but a shocking six of them have been first-game exits, and just one Super Bowl. Compare that with the Braves and their 15-year run from 1991 to 2005. They had 14 playoff appearances, including 11 straight division titles from 1995 to 2005. They lost four World Series in that span, making them equal with the Bills of that era, who lost four straight Super Bowls. I'm not sure what's more impressive, making four straight Super Bowls, or losing all of them. The Colts, no matter how Peyton Manning finishes his career, have cemented their name in similar conversations.

By the way, I finished the playoffs 4-7 in predictions. I also predicted 4 of 11 games correctly a month ago without even knowing who would play most of them. I guess I can take solace in the fact that the team with the better record usually wins, so the Colts would have won this game 3 out of 5 times. That's not an argument to turn the NFL into the English Premier League, which has no playoffs, because I like the fact that the winner in the NFL is the person who plays best on a given day. It is what a lot of people argued two years ago, however, after the Patriots were upset.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

It was the best of football, it was the last of football

The Super Bowl is Sunday. After all those years, eight in all, of watching Colts teams fold like a well-oiled folding chair, I'll never get tired of watching Peyton Manning and the Colts win Super Bowls. I feel jinxed, unfortunately, by the fact that the game has already been decided to many people, who are now debating what it means that Manning has won his second Super Bowl.

Yahoo! here discusses whether Manning now becomes the greatest football player ever, as well as whether Manning's 1.9 Super Bowls make him better than Tom Brady.

CNNSI didn't jump to conclusions like that. Instead, it chose to hype the hype at the Super Bowl (seriously).

For something actually interesting, read Kerry Byrne's article about previous great match-ups between quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. The problem is that only one of these games panned out. Last year's game between Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner was one of the best ever, it's worth noting.

As for the actual game, each team's chances for winning can be broken down as follows: the Colts are unstoppable, it would be nice if the Saints won because the team and the city both sucked for a long time. To that I would append that Indiana's economy is really struggling and that they could really use this.

In this survey of ESPN experts, 20 of 30 pick the Colts, 12 of them by 10 points or more. Of the ten that pick New Orleans, two justify it by saying that the Saints will win, three say it's destiny, and Rick Reilly says it's because he hates the Mannings.

CNNSI is 6 of 8 for the Colts, with Don Banks reasoning that the absence of a healthy Dwight Freeney will get the Colts carved up. Ross Tucker, a Princeton graduate, agrees.

My prediction, once again, is a 30.4-24.3 win for the Colts.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Book #1: The End of Poverty

I set a goal of reading as many books as possible this year, grammar textbooks or books with vivid illustrations notwithstanding. I started with the lofty goal of finishing War and Peace, which I bought six years ago in that heady year of 2004, when I recounted every (mostly noxious) movie I saw that year.

At any rate, the first book I finished was Jeffrey Sachs' The End of Poverty. I bought it Sunday and finished it Wednesday, thanks to its many non-vivid illustrations, mostly data plots and bar graphs, as well as Sachs' tendency to write well. The End of Poverty gives specific, tangible explanations for the occurrence of what Sachs calls extreme poverty, the inability to secure the necessities of life It also provides tangible suggestions for the elimination of extreme poverty.

I'm not qualified to judge the efficacy of his proposals for ending poverty in, say, Malawi. However, the approach is a strong one. Sachs believes that extreme poverty can be ended if wealthy countries commit to giving 0.7% of their GDP in a thoughtful way for a number of years. The money would be used for public health, infrastructure, and education, allowing the poorest in the world to join the international economy in the way coastal China, southern India and Indonesia have managed.

He takes an overly benign view of poor countries. While countries like China and Bangladesh rightfully receive praise for reducing poverty through international trade, Sachs doesn't urge sub-Saharan countries to try and do the same in some way, portraying them almost entirely as passive objects. Altogether, the book and the ideas within it are very strong, far more than the emotionally-charged appeals that are common in this topic.

There were a few interesting ideas in the book that were new to me. First, Sachs considers the economic growth of several regions over the past two centuries. In 1820, the US was three times as rich as Africa. Africa has grown by about 0.7% a year since then. America has grown about twice that fast on average. That growth, over time, has made America about 25 times as rich as Africa.

Second, by the time emerging economies such as India or China make news for being emerging economies with scorching-fast growth, the heavy lifting is already done. China grew at over 10% a year for much of the '80s and '90s before stabilizing these days at around 7-8%. Most of the heavy lifting in terms of the eradication of poverty was already done by the time we started raving about China's rise as a supwerpower.

Third, the power of geography in explaining poverty, as well as wealth, is immense. Sachs notes that while Americans (and Canadians) consider their wealth to be the result of their own virtue, they inherited state-of-the-art infrastructure and political institutions from Britain. As well, they live in a temperate land with vast natural resources. Contrast that with a place like Kyrgyzstan, which is landlocked, heavily mountainous and benefited from decades of Soviet rule.